Translate Blog

Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Antarctic Wildlife - Leopard Seals

Leopard Seal - Near Peterson Island 2011
Scientific name: Hydrurga leptonyx

Physical description and related species

The leopard seal is easily identified: designed for speed, the body is slender and the foreflippers long. The head is large and the jaws open widely revealing exceptionally long canines and unusually complex sharply pointed molars. Like the crabeater seals, leopard seals have unusual teeth for straining krill from the water.
Males (2.8 m; 320 kg) are generally slightly smaller than females (3.0 m; 370 kg). Large females may reach lengths in excess of 3.5 m and weigh over 500 kg.
Leopard seals may live for 26 years or more.

Distribution and abundance

Leopard Seals are solitary animals that inhabit pack-ice surrounding the Antarctic continent. They are perhaps the greatest wanderers of the Antarctic seals with sightings in Tasmania and a northern record at Heron Island. Heron Island is located at 23 degrees 27 minutes South—quite some distance from the Antarctic!
They may occur year-round on some subantarctic islands including the Australian territory of Heard Island. In the winter months, young leopard seals from the south visit Macquarie Island.
The population may be as large as 222 000 individuals.
Threats: The only natural predator of leopard seals is the killer whale, though an observation of a male elephant seal having killed a leopard seal while ashore at Heard Island has been reported. This is likely to be an uncommon occurrence.
The Australian Antarctic Division is interested in the factors that drive the cyclic nature of the occurrence of leopard seals at Macquarie Island and further to Tasmania. Studies of the movements of the seals within the pack-ice zone are also undertaken.
Conservation status: least concern


Because leopard seals are solitary animals that live in the Antarctic pack ice, little is known of their biology. Female leopard seals of six years or more give birth to a single pup on the sea-ice in November after a nine month gestation, and then return to the ocean to feed. The pup may weigh in excess of 30 kg.

Diet and feeding

Leopard seals eat almost anything, including penguins, fish, squid, crustaceans and other seals. Seals eaten include seal pups of crabeater, Weddell and fur seals. One animal, captured near Sydney, had eaten a full grown platypus.
The feeding behaviour of leopard seals is easily seen when their prey is a penguin. Typically the seals chase or grab penguins in the water and thrash the captured bird back and forth until the skin peels away. The remaining carcass is then consumed.
Leopard seals have very individual tastes. Some remain near penguin colonies and eat the penguins they catch there while others prefer to eat crabeater seal pups. Other leopard seals prefer a subantarctic menu and migrate north to Heard Island to feed on penguin and seal pups there.
One could be forgiven for thinking that this seal looked a little like a lizard.  While on the land the penguins don't seem to worry about these big sods, but in the water the leopard will catch and kill the birds by skinning. They virtually turn them inside out by banging the carcass on the water. We have seen the remains on occasion which looks like a penguin glove. They can act aggressively towards boats and occupants, but as a rule they don't actually attack humans. Thank god for that. Don't think I'd enjoy been turned inside out and made into a glove...!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.